If God is omnipresent, does that mean God is in hell?
The idea of God being omnipresent, that He is present in all places at all times, is often associated with similar ideas of the nature of God, that He is also omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful). These attributes are part of what make God, God.
Another attribute of God is His justice. Were He not just, He would not be God. Because God is just, He judges sin. Because He is merciful and gracious, He provides a way of salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. But for those who reject Jesus Christ, God must still be just (John 3:16–18). This is the reason for the existence of hell.
Hell is generally considered to be a place where people are removed from God's presence. Second Thessalonians 1:9 says of those who do not know God or obey the gospel of Jesus, "They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might." But since God is omnipresent, doesn't that mean He must be in hell? How can we reconcile this?
It is important to understand what is meant by "presence." There is the type of "presence" that refers to spatial location—physical proximity. Revelation 14:10 refers to such a presence when it speaks of God's judgment: "he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb." The Greek word used here is enōpion. The Greek used in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is prosopon and refers to the face or the outward appearance. Being removed from God's "presence" in hell has more to do with being removed from His favor or being separated from Him in a relational sense. Being in His "presence" in hell, or that the judgment is carried out in His presence, has more to do with physical proximity.
Some examples will help us understand. God was present at the time of creation (Genesis 1—2), and in the burning bush talking with Moses (Exodus 3), and when "the glory of the LORD filled the temple" (2 Chronicles 7:1–3), and when the Holy Spirit came upon the early church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–13). What a glorious truth! Also true, but often more difficult for us to comprehend or accept is that God was likewise present as the rain flooded the earth, killing all but Noah and his family and the chosen animals (Genesis 6); He was present when He rained down fire and brimstone destroying the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19); and He was present when the waters of the Red Sea collapsed upon the army of Egypt:
"Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.' So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses" (Exodus 14:26–31).
This passage highlights that the parting of the Red Sea is simultaneously a story of salvation for the people of Israel and the destruction of the Egyptian army. It is a revealing of God's perfect justice. It is a foreshadowing of the day of judgment.
John 3:16 tells us that "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Yet, God's perfect judgement is upon all because we have all sinned and fallen short of His glory (Romans 6:23).
While we cannot fully understand the mind and will of the Father, we do know that the "God our Savior… desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). We also know that "The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty" (Numbers 14:18). We do not celebrate the nature or need for hell, because we all deserve it. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that it is "…by grace [we] have been saved through faith. And this is not [our] own doing; it is the gift of God." We, who know that we have received this gift, should rejoice not only in the gift of eternal life, but more so in God, the giver of this gift. We will enjoy eternity not only in His proximity, but truly in His presence, in complete fellowship with Him, fully cleansed of sin. "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). We praise God for His patience and love and pray that many more will come to know Him and enjoy the fullness of His presence, beginning now and on into eternity (2 Peter 3:9).
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